From its opening frames, ‘Shazam!’ sets out to address the origin tale pitfalls inherent to the superhero genre. It quickly establishes a comical, yet sensitive tonality which allows the audience to get on-board with an otherwise outlandish premise. Director David F. Sandberg captures the imagination, enthusiasm, and pure glee of a little kid playing with his/ her toys. He maintains an irreverent and exuberant approach throughout. But that sentiment wouldn’t translate if it wasn’t conveyed so well by the cast. Under Sandberg’s direction, they give their characters the right amount of self-awareness without veering too far into camp.
This is especially applicable to Zachary Levi, whose playfulness as the title character never gets old. He’s able to portray a sincere, yet immature adolescent trying to take on the big, bad world and yet, doesn’t know his own limits as a superhero. It also becomes obvious that Billy Batson (Asher Angel) isn’t familiar with how a powered individual works, and that allows superhero nerd Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) to show him the ropes. Some of the best scenes include Shazam discovering his abilities with Freddy, and they’re a joy to behold. Family is the narrative thread that binds the film. Even the villain Dr Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) is forged by how his father and brother treat him as a young boy. That, along with Billy’s search for his birth mother, and his inability to find a home he can fit into, is where the plot finds its footing.
Despite this, the screenplay never falls prey to melodrama, and the usual genre tropes are acknowledged, then promptly downplayed. The stakes are relatively lower than what we’re used to, and yet crucial enough within this film. Even the action set-pieces don’t focus on fight choreography. Instead, those moments are used to further character development. It’s a risky move that does falter slightly towards the finish line, but that’s excused because everything else leading up to it is so much fun. Bolstered by Zachary Levi’s undeniable charm, ‘Shazam!’ embodies the child-like wonder associated with superhero/ comic movies. In a welcome change of pace, it is undoubtedly the lightest and most entertaining entry into the DC roster.